With none but Woodfall‘s Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello and Heather Sita Black singing, The Visit‘s debut album, Through Darkness Into Light, seems an unlikely candidate for Angry Metal Guy. Classical chamber music is stylistically about as far as one can venture from bombastic metal sub-genres such as power. But avoid this duo at your own peril, as their rich atmosphere is utterly captivating and their dark neo-folk evokes the likes of Nebelung. Weinroth-Browne undertook session work with the sadly-defunct Woods of Ypres and it’s clear such experience bolstered his moody repertoire. It says something that my notes were littered with the use of “we” in the present tense – so invested, as I was, into the pair’s fantasy.
Through Darkness Into Light is quite stunning in its simplicity. There’s Weinroth-Browne on the cello. And Sita Black singing. And that’s it. Sure, there’s some studio witchcraft permitting layers of cello and vocals but we can give them that one. There’s no gimmicks nor anywhere to hide for either musician. There’s also no compromise in the execution of their stark vision. The record is desolate and cold but gradually progresses to a more ambiguous place where hope isn’t too far off. The Visit take you on a journey of moods where the technicalities of the music they’re producing scarcely seems relevant. It evokes a lonely struggle through a snowy landscape – perhaps in their native Canada – as indicated by the lovely cover art. “Without This Flesh” is dark and distant, and “Offering” ramps up the urgency as the storm hits. The storm abates by “Cast Off the Veil” and the listener is afforded some comfort, but “Through Darkness” is a reminder that you remain alone. Only on “Into Light” is there a sliver of hope and the record concludes on a freer note. The tumult is wonderfully liberating, with a mood not far from last year’s regrettably-omitted Empyrium.
Unsurprisingly, the musicianship is exemplary. Weinroth-Browne borders on virtuosic in his sophisticated craft. While the disturbing and aggressive passages may demonstrate his technical ability and speed, it’s the subtle integration and transitions into the smooth and airy which impress. It’s amazing that he’s able to be so captivating with just four strings and a bow. Sita Black is similarly gifted, proudly deploying a voice of rich depth and tangible emotion. She complements the cello perfectly, and is critical to the remarkably nuanced moods evoked. She reins in uplifting strings when required and emotes brilliantly. At times her echoing chants recall Myrkur. I even enjoy her frequent forays into wordless melodies, permitting escape from the veiled trappings of lyrics. Usually wordless vocals merely fill gaps, fit rhymes or afford hooks, which isn’t the case here.
Technically, there’s very little to criticize – the pair masterfully execute their vision and the instrumentation is great. That said, I somewhat object to the pacing around the fourth track, “Through Darkness.” After a preceding track which feels like it’s reaching further into the light and nearly escaping despair, “Through Darkness” reverts to an overall mood closer to the first half. I’ve no doubt this was intentional to reinforce their somber credentials by smothering the glimmers of light hinted at in “Cast Off the Veil,” but it throws off the album’s momentum just slightly.
Additionally, as is intrinsic to the music’s constitution, you won’t find the tonal range and diversity one typically finds in metal, nor the melodic hooks. While this isn’t necessarily limiting, it curbs repeated complete listens. A wonderful record though this may be, I can’t help but crave something cheesy and catchy by the end of a run-through.
I read an article which posited that people whose personalities fit most strongly into the ‘openness to experience’ group – those who typically enjoy classical, jazz and metal – are the type to experience a greater emotional range in response to sad music. Further than what the majority merely identifies as ‘sadness,’ nostalgia, peacefulness and wonder are noted. Perhaps this is why metal is close to so many hearts (or at least Heartworks…), exposing labyrinthine emotions to the harsh light of day in a way which they aren’t in popular music. The greatest achievement of Through Darkness Into Light is how it effortlessly elicits such a range of subdued emotions beyond ‘sadness.’ The undemanding nature of the music places limitations on the number of consecutive listens I could manage without transferring to something more immediate, but this is an almost impossibly beautiful release. I hope it doesn’t fall on the deaf ears of those who scream “MOAR BLAST BEATS” into the pale, misty, trve mornings.